Rada Gujaničić is the president of the Managing board and an activist of Women’s Centre Užice, and our dear individual donor. She highlights that her activism is focused on opposing injustices such as unequal distribution of resources, as well as on a comprehensive, conscious and active struggle against the deterioration of women’s rights.
Our program of local feminist philanthropy exists as an additional form of support to the activists, as an additional gesture of solidarity coming from the environment that recognizes, appreciates and supports women’s struggles. However, it’s not rare that the activists also become individual donors, be it one-time, be it on long-term basis. What inspires you to donate to Reconstruction Women’s Fund or women’s movement in general?
The inspiration comes from the need for other women to get a chance to utilize resources for certain actions or support that they cannot get anywhere else for that purpose. Furthermore, it is an expression of gratitude to all the feminists who have ever acted, because, from a personal experience, I know how important that struggle is and it shouldn’t ever stop. Fighting for justice in any form fulfills me. Ever since my early childhood, I’m in solidarity actions, and I love to give and help people.
Another aspect, perhaps the most important one when it comes to local feminist philanthropy, is its political dimension. We direct the donated money towards long-term emancipatory struggles for social transformations. Such modalities of donating are far less present than some other types of donations, for instance, donating for humanitarian causes. And what is, from your perspective, the key distinction between donating for charities and donating for strengthening progressive socio-political organizations/movements?
The key difference is in the cognition that, by financing the movement you belong to, you are strengthening the base for acting, you display belonging (even though the resources donated are sometimes are symbolic) and that is how you enhance faith in others that the struggle for fairer social relations is both needed and possible, while humanitarian actions are one-timers (and very important for every individual in certain need for social support).
Women’s Centre Užice has been giving us an interesting example of a different, non-financial donation practice for over 10 years already. Of course, I’m referring to RETEKS, the recycling centre initiated by WCU in 2010, which employes women from marginalized groups, while also contributing to preservation of the environment. What was the path of RETEKS when it comes to engaging environment in donating clothes for recycling? What has changed over the past decade, what was learned?
RETEKS emerged from the continual tendency of WCU and its program for economic empowerment of women, to create some money that isn’t related to donors. We were often in situations that what is needed by women in the community and our organization isn’t the focus of donors’ strategic plans. That is why we have been, also through some other initiatives, striving to make resources that will enable us sustainability and independence. Through RETEKS and cooperatives that were founded since 2003, we have created a unique model of employing women from hard-to-employ groups, pretty much made of women who have lost their jobs in their best years and with a great working experience because of the deterioration of industries. They were the core of the team which has created programs for employing women with disabilities and other aggravating factors regarding employability.
Since its establishment in 2010 until today, RETEKS has an undivided attention and delight of the community. It encompasses all the important things existing in the strategies of sustainable development: employing women from hard-to-employ groups, environmental protection, humanitarian dimension and economic valorization, which is currently limited because we lack the equipment for producing textile fibers from textile communal and post-industrial waste. RETEKS started developing based on an idea of a humanitarian service for citizens with social need, engaging 4 women through a project supported by the City of Užice with 500,000 dinars. Citizens were donating their usable second-hand clothes that was from the beginning, as well as now, used by around 280 families annually.
Later it included the reception of non-usable clothes and home textile. Today it has a well-equipped mini-confection, collaboration with designers, well-trained team of women for making products from recycled textile, its own selection of products and a developed system of receiving and sorting second-hand clothes and home textile. All of these years, the program is sustained thanks to citizens who donate their clothes, good long-term collaboration with the National Employment Service and the loyalty of women working in RETEKS despite all the working challenges. Over a year, there are 5 to 8 women employed in RETEKS, depending on financial capacities. Considering all the things this program represents, WCU has a moral obligation to achieve its sustainability.
As the answer regarding lessons learned, I’m quoting Sonja Drljević:
If you work on something long and persistently enough, it will really happen.
Lastly, what is solidarity to you? What kind of solidarity do you see in practice, and what sort of solidarity is needed by the women’s movement?
I feel like the women’s movement has dissociated from the initial ideas developed by the women in the late ‘70s and early ‘90s and that the movement is disunited. It seems to me that it was quite impacted by project financing and donors who are imposing achieving the goals from their own strategies through projects. Writing and implementing such projects takes up large chunks of time and energy that women should direct towards actions and discussions needed by the women’s movement. These practices have also contributed to creating competitive relationships between organizations and tightness in sharing information, and there was some favoritism, too. I think, see and feel that there are huge gaps in levels of understanding solidarity and acting in women’s movement. It is encouraging that there are emerging young women with solid education, and I can see that they are connecting in different ways and much quicker but that still doesn’t mean that our actions will be mass actions, which is an important factor.
We need solidarity that isn’t related to collaboration around implementing project activities and joining for competitions but a true solidarity based on consciousness of belonging to the movement and actions directed against the deterioration of women’s rights, and directed towards the struggle for women’s rights on a global level.
Interview by Galina Maksimović